After 16 years in the Fan, WRIR is heading to Shockoe Bottom.
Last week the Virginia Center for Public Press, the nonprofit that operates WRIR, purchased 1806 E. Main St. as a new studio and de facto headquarters for the local independent radio station.
The new building will replace the station’s current home above The Camel at 1621 W. Broad St., where it has been broadcasting its nearly 90 shows on 97.3 FM for 16 of the 17 years it’s been in existence.
Melissa Vaughn, who started at WRIR as a volunteer coordinator about six years ago, is now the president of VCPP’s board of directors. It was in that previous role that she began to realize that the radio station needed a new home.
“Our current space is tiny and rather inaccessible. We have 20 rickety, like, Victorian death stairs to go up. They’re very small and narrow. It’s dangerous, it’s not ADA accessible at all, and there’s no way to make it so,” Vaughn said.
“If we’re calling ourselves ‘the community radio station’ and we can’t let in a part of our community, what’s our solution? It’s to move. It’s been my goal for a long time.”
The group paid $430,000 for the three-story, 4,700-square-foot building, which was formerly home to Richmond Balance Fitness.
The new space is twice the size of WRIR’s current footprint, giving more room to the 150 volunteers that keep the radio station going. Vaughn said WRIR is entirely volunteer-driven and is funded by donations and grants.
In early 2020 Vaughn became president of VCPP’s board and was planning the search for a new home when the pandemic hit. The move got put on hold as the group scrambled to keep the station going during the lockdown but kept the idea on its to-do list.
“For us, being an indie radio station, owning our building and being free from a landlord is a huge thing. It’s really important,” Vaughn said, adding that she’s excited that future leadership and volunteers at WRIR won’t have to worry about being forced out of a place.
Early plans for the new space include putting a live broadcast room on the ground floor so passersby on Main Street will be able to look in and see live performances. Vaughn said she expects the move to happen in phases over the next two years.
“I’m trying to be optimistic. I understand plans change and I need to be flexible, but the hope is we have the first two broadcast studios done in a year,” she said. She said they also plan to replace the awning and improve the building’s façade in the early stage of the renovation.
For Vaughn and the rest of VCPP’s board, closing on the building was a huge relief. She said now they’re beginning to get excited.
“I can’t get over it, the opportunities we have to improve and grow,” Vaughn said. “We haven’t heard anything (from volunteers) other than, ‘I’m really excited, how can I help?’ We don’t have a lot of naysayers in our organization.”
Sperity Real Estate Ventures’ Veronica Wiles represented VCPP in the sale. Thalhimer’s Jim Ashby represented the seller.
Once it settles into Shockoe Bottom, WRIR will have some indie music brethren in the neighborhood. Shockoe Records, a new indie record label, recently formed out of nearby In Your Ear Studios.